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The Role of Feedback in the Personalized Learning Environment

The Role of Feedback in the Personalized Learning Environment

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson you will learn how to use peer review and student feedback using Plus/Deltas to create opportunities for continuous improvement in personalization

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Source: Image of Plus/Delta chart, created by Jody Waltman; Image of Plus/Minus/Delta chart, created by Jody Waltman

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In this tutorial, we'll examine the role of feedback in the personalized learning environment. We'll begin with a brief review of a lesson that was developed using Understanding by Design using elements of competency-based education or problem-based learning. Then we'll introduce two different charts that can be used to gather feedback-- the Plus/Delta chart, which is meant for use with students; and the Plus/Minus Delta chart, which can be used to gather peer feedback. Let's get started.

Anyone who has enlisted to provide you feedback on one of your lessons should be aware of the objectives that are identified for that particular lesson. For that reason, let's take just a moment to review a lesson that was developed using the steps of Understanding by Design.

In an earlier tutorial, we learned how to use UbD to design a lesson or entire unit that incorporated elements of competency-based education and problem-based learning. Remember that all lessons develop using UbD or any other lesson design strategy should be aligned with your content standards. Furthermore, there should be alignment among these content standards, the lesson or unit objectives, and the essential questions that are identified throughout the UbD process.

Here's an example of a lesson on the Pythagorean theorem. Note first the lesson objective. The lesson objective is the statement that tells what students will understand or what students will be able to do. Here, students will be able to use the Pythagorean Theorem to find missing side lengths in right triangles.

Next, I've identified my Common Core State Standards alignment. This lesson is aligned with the standard that asks students to be able to apply the Pythagorean theorem to determine unknown side lengths in right triangles in real world and mathematical problems in two and three dimensions. Realize that one individual lesson is probably not going to meet the standard in its entirety. Instead, individual lessons build on one another to get students to the level required in the standard.

Next, I've identified two essential questions that will be addressed in this lesson and the following lessons. First, why does the Pythagorean theorem work? And second, can we apply the Pythagorean theorem to other types of geometry problems? As students build their skills working with the Pythagorean theorem, we will investigate how the distance formula is actually an application of the Pythagorean theorem. And students will make predictions about other ways in which the Pythagorean theorem might be applied.

Recall that UbD essential questions are important questions that are critical within a discipline or topic area. These essential questions are meant to help students make sense of core content and ideas and are intended to promote inquiry that involves higher-level thoughts, discussion, and new understandings of ideas.

Essential questions aim to have students justify ideas, consider alternatives to their ideas, and weigh evidence that is presented by others. They should help students to create meaningful connections with prior learning and to experiences in their everyday lives. And essential questions should foster interdisciplinary connections.

Note that my essential questions, my Common Core state standards, and my lesson objectives are all nicely aligned. Notice also that I have incorporated elements of competency-based education and personalized learning. Students have choices in their activities. And when students are ready to prove mastery of the current concept, they will have the opportunity to do so without necessarily having to wait for the entire class to take the same assessment.

When you are implementing your carefully designed lesson plan, how can you gather the most valuable feedback possible? The most obvious choice might be to enlist the help of the dozens of observers that you have in your class every single day-- your students. Now since students are not trained in the methods and theories in education, their feedback is naturally going to be limited to their own personal experiences in your classroom. This is valuable feedback nonetheless.

To help students record their observations, you can use a Plus/Delta chart. This chart has two columns-- one labeled with a Plus sign for things that are going well or positive elements in the classroom, and the other labeled with a Delta which is a symbol used especially in math and science to represent the change in something. So the Delta column is a place where students can brainstorm some ideas for possible changes that can be made in the classroom.

Notice that this chart has just two rows. The top row will be dedicated to things that the teacher has control of in the classroom environment. And the bottom row will be limited to the things that students can take ownership of.

So in the top left portion of the chart, students will record what is working well for them in the class. And in the top right portion of the chart, students can suggest possible changes that would help them to do even better. In the bottom left entry in the chart, students will record what they are doing to improve their own learning. And in the bottom right entry, they can reflect on what they have the power to change in order to improve their performance.

Before implementing the Plus/Delta chart with your students, it's a good idea to give them some insight into what the purpose of such a chart might be. Students need to know that this is meant to be respectful process with the end goal of improving instruction and classroom procedures in order to improve the classroom experience for everyone involved.

An expanded version of this chart, a Plus/Minus/Delta chart, can effectively be used for peer observation. Recall that a peer observer should have access to the lesson plan that you are implementing so that they can help you determine whether your lesson implementation is truly effective. Notice that the Plus/Minus/Delta chart does not have to be limited to just two rows.

Under the Plus column, the peer observer will note specific things that appear to be working in the class. Under the Minus column, they'll note things that don't seem to be working so well. And under the Delta column, they'll make specific suggestions for improvement.

Peer observers can help you reflect on whether your objectives are aligned with your essential questions and your content standards. It's important to schedule a follow-up session with your peer observer to go over the specific things that they wrote down in their chart and to foster the reflection that is an essential part of making our instruction as effective as it can possibly be.

In this tutorial, we briefly reviewed a lesson developed using the Understanding by Design process, and we learned how students can use a Plus/Delta chart and peer observers can use a Plus/Minus/Delta chart in order to provide us with valuable feedback on our implementation of these carefully designed lessons. Now it's time for you to stop and reflect. Could you see yourself using a Plus/Delta chart with your own students? Would you find it valuable to have a peer observer complete a Plus/Minus/Delta chart as they observe your classroom?

As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the Additional Resources section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set. Thanks for watching. Have a great day.

Notes on "The Role of Feedback in the Personalized Learning Environment"

(00:00 - 00:31) Introduction

(00:32 - 03:39) Review UbD Lesson

(03:40 - 05:29) Plus/Delta Chart

(05:30 - 06:27) Plus/Minus/Delta Chart

(06:28 - 06:46) Review

(06:47 - 07:21) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

Montgomery County Public Schools: 10 Basic Quality Tools for the Classroom

Scroll down to find template and exemplars for plus deltas. This link will bring you to a comprehensive staff development page with an overview of how and why to use plus deltas, and you will also find images and examples of plus deltas in use. Furthermore, emphasis is made on the impact of plus deltas on raising student achievement.

Personalized Learning Toolkit

This toolkit offers useful templates, documents and guides for teachers interested in personalizing their classroom instruction. In particular, scroll down to the stages of personalized learning environments to determine where you are on the continuum of personalization and where you want to go next.